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Nick Wilson is Ready for Cleveland’s Summer of LeBron

Tyler McComas

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A decision looms in the NBA that could change the landscape of the league for several years to come. That’s to be expected when the greatest basketball player of all-time (yeah, I said it) has an open run of where he can play next season. But if you think Lebron James’ decision just affects the Cleveland Cavaliers, the rest of the Eastern Conference or even his legacy, you’re sadly mistaken. 

Lebron’s decision affects the economy of northern Ohio, the growth of basketball around the area and certainly from a media perspective – the popularity of sports radio in Cleveland. Sure, hosts will still be able to rely on topics centered on the Cavs, as well as the Indians and Browns, but there’s no denying that losing the biggest star in the NBA would have a considerable effect on sports radio stations in the city. 

Though that seems grim, there’s actually a big silver lining for everyone associated with sports radio in Cleveland. Name any market in the country and you’ll find sports radio stations bracing for lower ratings in the summer. It’s natural and happens every year.

Cleveland, however, may be preparing for its biggest ratings push of the year in the months of June and July, which is something that’s usually unprecedented in a major city Why? Well, there’s no bigger story in sports today than where Lebron is going to play next season.

Most hosts across the country might be scrambling for topics to fill a show during the summer months, but hosts in Cleveland have the luxury of covering one of the biggest sports stories in the history of the city. Though the NBA Finals are over, Clevelanders haven’t tuned out sports radio. They’re locked in as ever to hear the latest reports and rumors on where King James is leaning. If Lebron does leave Cleveland, he won’t do so without giving sports radio a huge ratings boost.

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However, there’s certainly a lot to be gained for stations in Cleveland if Lebron decides to stay in town. Yes, it keeps the Cavaliers as a national brand in the NBA, but it also keeps the market held in high regard. As Nicholas Wilson of 92.3 The Fan told me, young talent from across the country have flocked to Cleveland to cover the best basketball player on the planet. If Lebron does leave, would that same talent stay in the city? Would Cleveland still be on the radar for talented, up and comers in the business? 

As the decision looms, Wilson shares insight on how much is at stake in the next month for local stations like 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland. 

TM: Would you say this the biggest sports story in the history of Cleveland? 

NW: It’s up there. I’ll honestly say that the Cavs’ title two years ago is probably the biggest story in recent history. Lebron owns the biggest stories of the last 5-10 years along with the Indians World Series run. But if you look at the way this thing is going to build, seeing as we’re a month out, I think the optics of this are different than the decision to leave in 2010 and the decision to return in 2014. I think the average Clevelander knows that there’s a lot of speculation on Lebron’s future. 

I think it’s still going to be a Top 5-10 story in Cavaliers history, but I think it’s minimized a bit because the championship has already been won. People in Cleveland still want Lebron to be back, but the stakes don’t feel as big as they were in 2010. 

TM: You just alluded to the frustration level not being as high as 2010 if he leaves. But as a show host, are you rooting for the outbursts if he decides to leave town again? 

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NW:  I’m not so foolish to not show self-interest, absolutely. Lebron is the ever-ripened fruit on the evergreen tree. He always gives you content. 

Selfishly, I want him to be back because he makes the Cavs more interesting, but I don’t know if there’s going to be the outburst. There’s always going to one or two guys that try to make their name by giving the take Lebron James let Cleveland down by going. There always will be. That probably holds true with fans as well, there’s people who have still not forgiven Lebron James for leaving in the first place. 

I don’t think you’re going to see the mass hysteria like when he left in 2010, or when he came back in 2014, but I still think even though there isn’t going to be the anger, even though those coals don’t burn as hot, I still do think, that for sports radio in the next month, we’ve got you there. People are more calm and rational this time around, but I still think they really want to see where he goes. 

TM: Do you consider this the biggest month of the past year for Cleveland sports radio? 

NW: It’s pretty up there. Look, it’s a Browns town so their season is always a big time for us. I would say the NFL Draft was huge for us as well as the NBA Finals. But I think Lebron’s future in Cleveland is a cottage industry, because it touches all aspects of the NBA offseason. 

It touches the NBA Draft, because the Cavs have the No. 8 pick. It touches the trade market because of Kevin Love and the questions of his trade value. It touches free agency, because Lebron is a free agent and the Cavs are going to have to go about that two different ways, depending where he ends up. From a sports radio perspective, you could not set up the next four weeks any more perfect than how they’re set up. 

TM: There are rumors that have already come out about Lebron’s next destination and others will come out in the next month. As a host, how do you sort through what’s worth bringing up on the air versus what doesn’t?

NW: This is the million dollar question. For me, I just always try to consider the source. Like, I love Gary Payton and he’s the one who originally said that Lebron James Jr. was going to enroll at a Los Angeles high school next year, but that dude talks as much as any human being in NBA history. Not that I refuse to believe the report, but there’s a part of me that can laugh about it a little more that Gary Payton would be the guy to break this kind of news.  

Having seen Lebron for so long, I think everything is automatically something that you can take a little skeptically, which I think makes it a little more fun. But I actually think that’s part of the on-air stuff. I think some of the best conversations that I’ve heard on Lebron James and his future, are do you trust this report? You cannot get two Clevelanders who trust the same source of information the exact same amount. It leads itself into a battle royale over things like where Lebron’s kid will go to high school. 

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TM: Aside from Lebron himself, what kind of guests are you looking for in the next month to add insight to this story? 

NW: I really love the Cavs beat. Dave McMenamin, Jason Lloyd, Joe Vardon from the reporter perspective. I like all those guys. From the current player perspective, give me Richard Jefferson or Channing Frye. From Lebron’s camp, I would say it’s probably be Rich Paul. From Cavaliers historical, it’s Mark Price. It depends on the way you look at it, but I love listening to those number of perspectives for different reasons. Each one can give you an insight into Lebron that are so fascinating and so singular in terms of how they view him and the pursuit of his legacy.

TM: Let’s say Lebron doesn’t sign in Cleveland. Are they now on the back burner in terms of your topic list? 

NW: I don’t know way less Cavs, it’s interesting, because when Lebron left in 2010, there was still a lot of talk on the team because it galvanized people in a direction. The Cavs had been kind of listless, near the top of the Eastern Conference but never able to get over the hump or able to get another great player to town. 

So Lebron leaving that first time, there was an intense amount of interest for the first 16-18 months of the Cavaliers. Then, of course as rebuilding processes do, people fell by the wayside and the feeling toward Lebron lessened and lessened. I do think that any decision that he makes, for the first year, is going to galvanize people in one direction or the other. 

TM: In terms of capturing your audience, are the Browns poised to pick up where the Cavs fall of if Lebron leaves? 

NW: The Browns have been poised to pick off anybody from any audience, no matter Lebron James, the Indians, any national story, they’ve been poised to pick this thing off since they came back in 1999. As a matter of fact, it took Lebron coming back in 2014 to really kick the Browns off their mantle. Even though the Browns have lost an asinine amount of their fan base, for what’s happened the last three years, I still think the Browns are going to be king of this town if they start winning. 

What I will say, is if Lebron stays along with the championship expectations, I don’t think it’s going to be a clean victory by the Browns. At that point, it will probably be a similar ratio as to what it is now, but if Lebron leaves and Baker Mayfield turns out to be a nice quarterback and the Browns start to win, you could just say a prayer for the Indians and the Cavs because I may not get to talk about them for the next 5-6 years. 

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TM: Does the allure of a sports radio job in Cleveland hinge on Lebron being in town? Especially with people that aren’t from the area?

NW: Oh absolutely. Cleveland is an interesting market because it’s very insulated and there’s a lot of people that have been doing it for several years. I do think for a lot of the younger guys, Lebron holds a lot of the intrigue. Some younger have to ask themselves, I’m going to follow the old trend of staying in Cleveland for your career, or are there other places where there might be more interesting teams or just as interesting cities as Cleveland without Lebron. 

Any young guy making his name in radio in Cleveland, has to think about that, because from the external standpoint, I get a lot of publicity just off the fact I’m in Cleveland and know a few people in radio. When they need someone to talk Cavs, boom, I’m on CBS or I’m on in Portland with my boy Chad. Just for me, who’s someone that’s broken through the Cleveland market in the last 5-7 years, if I’m getting attention like that I can only imagine what someone who’s been here longer or in any of the drive shifts is getting, publicity wise. 

I do think the intrigue factor with Lebron has been something that’s incalculable the last four years. I guarantee you, a young kid who just graduated college from Syracuse, who’s looking at two similar jobs, is saying, oh man, it would be cool to go and talk about Lebron. But if he leaves and we become Browns centric, it will be interesting to see what that does for the young professionals. 

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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